Sales leads – they mean nothing to you or your business unless you can qualify them. After all, what’s the point of pursuing a lead that isn’t truly viable?
If you’re reading this a little confused because you thought, ‘A lead, is a lead, is a lead,’ keep reading. You’re not alone.
AND – If you were under the impression that everyone that asks for a quote via your web form is highly qualified sales lead, don’t beat yourself up. This was written especially for you.
6 Steps to Better Qualifying
Your Sales Leads
A majority of salespeople, sales managers, and business owners have experienced issues in deciphering just how qualified their leads are.
While a Google search might give you a good indication of who may or may not fit the profile of your buyer persona and a request for pricing is definitely a sign of interest in your company, these things alone do not guarantee your offer is a perfect match for the prospect.
The quality of a lead is a bit more nuanced than that.
The truth is that some of your leads are simply marketing qualified leads (MQL), others will actually be sales qualified leads (SQL), and still not all SQLs will present a true opportunity for you to do business.
I know – It’s disappointing, right?
It’s doesn’t have to be. Knowing the difference between MQLs and SQLs gives you and your sales team back bandwidth. It allows you to focus on the prospects who are most likely to convert rather than neglecting them while serving people who will never actually contribute to your revenue number.
Being able to properly qualify your leads also helps to ensure customer satisfaction, and we all know that the best marketing we can have is customer satisfactions because it leads to social proof, recommendation, and referrals. You know… MARKETING GOLD!
On the flip-side, pitching and selling to prospects who aren’t a true fit for what it is that you sell can lead to negative reviews, getting blasted on social media, and damage to your brand that will cast a shadow over all the praise from customers who were absolutely thrilled to have bought from you.
1. Filter Your Sales Qualified Leads From Your Marketing Qualified Leads
So what’s the difference between marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs)?
CEO and Founder of LeadFuze, Justin McGill defines an MQL as:
“A lead judged more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on lead intelligence, often informed by closed-loop analytics.”
Put more simply, MQLs are prospects that can be identified from a far as worthy of investigation into just how viable they are as potential customers.
In his article on the LeadFuze blog Justin goes on to say that identifying MQLs can be done manually by someone on your sales team, like your sales development reps.
MQLs can also be identified through inbound tactics, like using a landing page to capture contact information in exchange for a gated piece of content. Those interested enough in the gated content to exchange their contact information for it might also be interested enough to exchange money for your offer.
Justin McGill explains in the same article that the goal after having identified MQLs is to, “Find out who’s really interested in buying,” and graduate them to SQLs.
In a post for TechTarget Margaret Rouse defines SQLs as:
“A prospective customer that has been researched and vetted — first by an organization’s marketing department and then by its sales team – and is deemed ready for the next stage in the sales process.”
Within your organization the graduation of an MQL to SQL might be signaled by an inbound lead that engaged with an SDR, met your company’s criteria for a first-meeting with a sales executive (i.e. demo, discovery session, etc.), and actually committed to meeting with a member of your sales team at a specific day and time; There is a meeting schedule on the calendar.
What criteria should a prospect meet to qualify for a first-meeting?
1.) Based on the information you can gather over the phone the prospect meets the profile of your ideal buyer persona.
2.) The prospect can articulate a pain your offer actually solves, and your offer solves the pain well enough in their case that it can be seen to have greater value to the prospect than the money they’ll have to part with to have you deliver it.
3.) The prospect is not confused as to what products, services, or results you can deliver.
4.) The prospect is willing to sit for a first-meeting before receiving a price.
This 4th criteria is probably most important signal of an MQL. You are not in the business of writing proposals. You and your team shouldn’t be wasting time writing proposals for prospects who won’t give you enough access to properly assess their needs.
If a prospect just wants a number and you give it to them, you better be comfortable being seen as a commodity competing solely on price, because that’s all you’ll ever be.
If you’re a value-added reseller or service provider and you’re giving out prices without having an opportunity to customize the offer, price, and pitch to the prospect’s specific situation, chances are you never had a shot of winning the deal.
What’s more likely is that the prospect is already committed to buying from someone else. They just need a number from you to satisfy their boss’ 3 quote rule, or because while they like another vendor they’re hoping they can leverage a low number from you to get a better price from company they’ve already chosen.
What do you do with MQLs that can’t be graduated to SQLs?
If you don’t provide a solution to the problem a MQL is trying to solve, there is no intersection between their need and the value you bring to the market, then you probably shouldn’t try to win business from the prospect.
Doing so is likely to turn disastrous for both parties. They’ll be unhappy, delivery could become so troublesome your company loses money on the deal, and they might go as far as to bury you in painful reviews on online or elsewhere.
Being a non-SQL doesn’t mean the prospect cannot ever become an SQL. Some MQLs just take time to mature into SQLs, but it is the job of marketing – not sales – to nurture prospects through that more lengthy transition along the buyers journey.
In the short-term your team can still try to help a non-SQL prospect by offering some advice on how they can deal with their problem, pointing them in the direction of content that will help them out, or even refering them to another trusted company.
While servicing a non-SQL won’t produce the sale you’re sales team is after in the short-term, that prospect is more likely to value your company’s time. The rapport built through such an exchange with unqualified prospect can translate in lay-down sales when they finally do mature into SQLs. These prospects can even turn into your strongest referral sources; they’ll feel like they owe you something.
The key here is for your team to be helpful, but be helpful quickly and then move on to more productive revenue generating activities.
2. Be Disciplined In Identifying Your Ideal Buyer Persona
In explaining how to differentiate your sales qualified leads from your marketing qualified leads above, I mention using your ideal buyer persona to help you qualify prospects. You and your sales staff should be crystal clear on who your ideal client is before you engage with prospects. In doing so you’ll have better success differentiating between the qualified and unqualified.
A lot of salespeople simply consider every prospect with money and a request for pricing as a sales qualified lead or even as an oppotunity. This is mainly because they don’t know their ideal client.
As Jeff Koser says in an interview on the Sales Babble Podcast, when you really understand who your ideal customers are, qualified prospects become as easy to spot as a zebra among horses.
You want to work with people who make your job enjoyable, not people who are disgruntled or disappointed. A lot of times the difference between a good and happy client versus a client that is unhappy and miserable to deal with, is the match-making between the clients and the vendor.
Unhappy clients suck up a lot of energy and time your sales team could be using to delight more qualified customers. Unhappy clients also don’t send many referrals, and we all want the sort of clients who are going to refer us to other people again and again.
How does a business define their ideal buyer persona?
To start, it’s worth mentioning that in the early days of a business the concept of an ideal buyer persona is going to be fluid. Only after experience in serving customers will you have a perspective into who your offer makes the most sense for, who you can serve most profitably, who sees the greatest gain from buying from you, and what differentiates a buyer who may buy from you at some point down the road from a buyer who wants to buy from you today.
There may also be a specific segment of prospects within a specific range of phases along the buyer’s journey that you need to consider when defining your ideal buyer.
It may be the case that a prospect who comes in contact with your brand after having experiencing one thing but before experiencing something else that makes them more likely to give you their business over a competitor.
Only after you’ve identified who you can make the biggest impact for, who you prefer to work with, who you can serve most profitably, and who is most intuitively attracted to your offer can you decide who your ideal buyer is. Once you do you should probably double down: pursuing them and only them.
To make it easier for your sales team to understand and to communicate the idea to prospects, it’s helpful to define you ideal buyer person using the following formula:
At XYZ Company , we help CUSTOMERS accomplish RESULT without NEGATIVE OUTCOME ASSOCIATED WITH COMPETITION .
At XYZ Company , we help CUSTOMERS who have experienced NOT AWESOME EVENT__accomplish RESULT before experiencing EVEN LESS AWESOME EVENT without NEGATIVE OUTCOME ASSOCIATED WITH COMPETITION .
Of course, the linchpin that determines your truest ideal customer from a lot of others who simply look like your ideal customer is if they reasonably have the funds to execute on your offer.
3. Win Permission to Sell
A lot of salespeople come in too hot when cold calling or interacting with a prospect for the first time. As a result they end up killing deals before they even have legs. This happens because they start pitching too early and this shuts down any chance they have at making a sale.
Before a successful pitch can take place a sales professional needs to qualify their prospect. Before they can even try to qualify the prospect however, the sales professional needs to win their permission to exchange in a real dialog.
In an interview for the Predictable Revenue Podcast, Rex Biberston shares:
“The beginning of a [call] is all about getting permission. That’s where everyone screws up. After getting permission, then ask qualifying questions.”
Without permission you’re not really having a conversation, but how do you know you’re really having a conversation and not talking to wall?
According to Rex, a real conversation means both parties are asking and answering questions. As Rex put’s it:
“If the [other] person isn’t asking questions, they’re waiting to hang up. You should be able to know in [the first] two minutes whether or not [the call] is going to go any further. If they ask questions, they are giving you permission to go over the two minutes.”
4. Ask The Most Important Sales Questions
Before you or your team start asking questions in an attempt to qualify a prospect think about your current clients and your ideal buyer persona(s). How would they answer the questions that you’re about to ask?
To goal of qualifying questions is to amass a data set that allows a sales professional to answer a simple Yes or No question: Does this person fit the formula of our buyer persona?
At XYZ Company , we help CUSTOMERS accomplish RESULT without NEGATIVE OUTCOME ASSOCIATED WITH COMPETITION .
When asking these questions, if the prospect answers in a way that your current client would, then you know you have yourself a sales qualified lead.
We certainly don’t want to feed prospects answers to qualifying questions. For this reason open ended questions are best. Yes or No questions leave a lot of information out of the conversation which can impact the sales professional’s ability to accurately answer the question of if the prospect is actually qualified to use up your team’s time developing a sale.
A few open-ended qualifying questions to get the conversation started…
1.) What problems do you and your business face?
2.) How can we help to solve that problem?
3.) How have you tried to fix the problem so far?
4.) How much did trying X cost you?
5.) By what date do you need a solution to your problem?
Answers to all of the above should give you answers that will reveal whether a prospect is qualified to continue a sales conversation or if it’s time to part ways.
Of course, these questions are designed to get a prospect talking.
If their answers are unusually short however, that might be an indication in itself that the prospect isn’t all that interested in your offer or in what your sales team has to say. If a prospect starts being very short in their replies to questions, it’s worth exploring.
Your prospect should sound engaged, interested, and excited – not bored.
Of course, flipping the script on a seemingly uninterested prospect is a great way differentiate a non-buyer from one that’s simply playing hard to get.
Saying something like…
“Mr. Prospect, can you help me with something? I’m having a hard time seeing the fit here and I’m not too sure how I can help you. Why are we here?”
… Can help your salespeople quickly and politely end an conversation with a non-buyer. It can also trigger a qualified buyer to start selling your rep on all the reasons they should buy and being chased as a seller is always better than doing the chasing!
5. Know Their Budget
Finding out the lead’s budget is a great way to find out whether a lead is qualified to buy. Your salesperson then knows which offerings on their price scale to focus on as a possible option for the prospect.
A good salesperson will assess early on, what price range a buyer falls into and will make a decision on whether or not it makes sense to pursue the sale beyond a certain point. For a lot of businesses, chasing leads that will only buy once, at a really low price point, probably isn’t worth the effort.
Your salesperson would be better off pursuing prospects who can provide a greater lifetime value to your bottom line.
How do you identifying serious prospects with real budgets?
A lot of sales professionals consider it to be difficult to find out the buyer’s exact budget, but according to Webstrategies, 80% of decision makers are actually pretty comfortable in giving out this information.
If you’re like Brendan Alan Barrett’s however, you might want your sales team to be qualifying prospects early and often by breaking your deals up into smaller purchases and effectively getting paid to sell.
After all, if a prospect can’t afford your introductory offer then they certainly won’t be able to afford your bigger offer.
Value Ladders For Service Providers
How to Get Paid to Sell According to Brendan Alan Barrett
In an interview with Landon – The Sales Gorilla – Porter inside the Getting Clients Without Being Salesy Facebook group Brendan Alan Barrett dives deeper into how service providers can break down their offerings into the steps of a value ladder. Doing so means they (or their sales team) can generate revenue before completing their company’s sales process.
6. Leverage the Decision Maker You Have
When the person on the other end of the phone (or table) isn’t the decision maker then you run the risk of wasting a lot of time and effort. In B2B sales however, there are two things that make zeroing in on the true decision maker troublesome.
The first is probably the most obvious. The bigger an organization is the more guarded the c-suite will be, and with good reason.
The second challenge in zeroing in on the true decision maker is that sales professionals have been mislead by their trainers. They’ve been taught to assume that anyone below the rank of CEO that says they are the decision maker is lying.
The truth is that CEOs delegate decision making power. They have to. If CEOs had to make every purchasing decision they’d never get anything done. The nuance sales professionals need to understand is exactly how much decision making power their point of contact has and sell accordingly.
Going back to the idea of getting paid to sell, in some cases a client organization might limit your access to the personnel that will collectively weigh in on a large buying decision. With the purchasing power of the personnel you can get in front of however, you might be able to segment your deals in such a way that garners you even more access without bruising the ego of your point of contact.
With each investment your prospective customer is likely to give you more and more access. With that access you can more effectively play doctor, more effectively understand their needs, and more precisely customize an offer or pitch that will actually get your deal across the finish line.
Your Leads are Garbage Unless They are Qualified
Your time and the time of your sales team is valuable. Don’t waste time pursuing deals that are never going to happen.
Know who you’re going after, get their buy-in before you over invest in their buying process, price qualify early and often, and leverage the decision makers you have access to. In the end you’ll close more business because you and your team will have more time to service accounts that actually pay.
About The Author of This Article: Eric Reilly worked in a butcher shop for 2 years before he left to pursue becoming a qualified digital marketer. Now, he has a Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing and he is the Owner/Operator of an online website called Guitarmuso.com.
Eric is a Social Media Manager and hopes to travel as much of the world as possible with his girlfriend.
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